|Art by Dario Bijelac|
February brings a batch of short SFF to Flash Fiction Online featuring a sense of longing, community, and the threat of loss. In each of the stories, characters deal with a fragile connection to someone else. To a child, or a student, or a part of themself. And in each that connection is under attack, is threatened in a way that makes any action dangerous. That makes any movement perilous. And in each story the characters’ movements are explored—their hesitation or their determination to keep going or stand still. And it makes for a rather quiet, rather wrenching month of stories, with a delicate but resilient hope that shines even in the darkness. To the reviews!
“Safebuoys” by Wes Smiderle (995 words)
No Spoilers: Loocha and her son Corvey are refugees from some unknown catastrophe, floating through space in a safebuoy, a sort of escape pod, toward an uncertain future. Already a rather loaded situation, it’s made more dire by some complications that happened during the evacuation which put added weight on their escape. The piece is achingly lonely, the two with only each other for company and an increasingly bleak reality pressing in around them. The piece is wrenching, about survival and odds and a hope so fragile that the faintest breeze might shatter it. The faintest truth that hints at the true scope and scale of the damage.
Keywords: Evacuation, Space, Family, Illness, Lies, Games
Review: So much of this story seems to be about lies. Or perhaps it’s about games, which is about the same. Because these two people, mother and child, have built up a game where they feel as long as they keep playing, there is a victory to look forward to. As long as they keep playing, then they can’t lose. And so they maintain the facade of the game, the lie of the game, in the face of the growing and unavoidable truth that things are Not Okay. That Corvey is dying and likely nothing will stop that. And I like here (though it’s depressing as fuck) that Loocha has the opportunity to break through the crushing isolation that surrounds them. Except that she knows that should that isolation be pierced, they’d have to stop the game. There would be too many people who wouldn’t know the rules and might not want to play. And that would shatter everything, would leave nothing but the reality that Corvey is dying and Loocha can’t really do anything about it. It’s a heartbreaking and rending read, one that sees the lengths that people will go do in order to maintain an illusion because it gives them hope. Because the truth beneath is too difficult to face. And so they don’t. Which isn’t exactly a super...optimistic message, but I do feel that it is an important one, because it asks what else they can do. It asks if facing the truth would be better, if it wouldn’t change anything. And that’s a really hard question to face, an impossible decision to make. And yeah, it’s a wonderful read!
“Our Cousins, Whom We Do Not Use As Directed” by Claire Humphrey (906 words)
No Spoilers: Told in first person plural, this story reveals a group of people, the alive ones, who have suffered a great deal of loss while on their travels. And each loss, each accident that happens, creates a cousin, an object that was once part of the collective but is now separate and, if not deceased, then inert and isolated from their former group. And the piece follows this collective as they are diminished, as they deal with the uncertainty and grief and fear about what has happened, and what could happen. it’s a strange story, and one that doesn’t necessarily (for me, at least) lend itself to figuring out what the We of the narration is. Rather I think it speaks to the risks of exploration and discovery, and the desire to keep going despite it all.
Keywords: Objects, Exploration, Loss, Cousins, Houses
Review: I really like how this story tackles trauma, and especially the kind of trauma that can come from discovery and pushing the bounds of what is known. The We of the story has the feeling of an explorer to me, some collective that scouts ahead, that searches through the world. And they begin with only that goal, to see and to travel, until they find out that the world is a dangerous place. That accidents happen. That pieces of themself die. And they realize then that each time that happens, they are lesser. It’s a traumatic event, the death of part of them, and as the casualties mount they get more and more stuck in one place, until the literal baggage of the cousins they carry make them stop and settle. But I love the energy that still pulses inside them, that even as they shift to taking care of the memories of those they have lost, there is this desire to go back out. And for me it’s the push and pull between wanting to stay safe and hold onto the dead and lost, and wanting to go out and explore to honor them and how they lived. And I like how the story then takes the We back out, realizing that they can’t juts stay in the house until they’re all gone. That, regardless of what they have lost, they are still enough to go and do something, to continue the work that inspires them and brings them joy. It’s a beautifully weird experience full of grief and longing, but I think it shines most with hope, and resilience, and a living way of honoring the dead. Definitely go check this one out!
“Quilting With the Rejects” by Megan Lee Beals (988 words)
No Spoilers: Rex runs a sewing class that anyone can attend, using fabric and clothing salvaged from Goodwill in order to present people with the materials for their projects. It’s not just about colors and textures, though, for Rex and his class. Every fabric has a vibe. A feeling to it, imbued by the way it was cared for, by the emotions of the people who wore it. Rex likes to work with the fabric with the best vibes, full of care and happiness and relief. But there are other kinds, and when one of his students, Oliver, who seems to have something of a rough life, starts putting together something Rex feels is less than good, he has to make a decision about what to do next. It’s a cannily built story that packs a lot of world building into a small space. It’s also got a lot of heart, and focuses on how people use crafting to express themselves on many levels.
Keywords: Sewing, Fabric, Vibes, Masks, Quilting
Review: I love the world that the story build, or at least the flourishes that it adds to our own to touch it with a bit of magic. Which is what crafts can be like, ways of making feelings manifest, of harnessing expression in a way that people have to step back and take notice of. And I love the interaction between Rex and Oliver, the way that Rex presents this overwhelmingly positive air because he cares and wants to take care of people, but Oliver, whose life seems a bit more threatened, needs something different. He can’t just wrap himself in kindness and joy and expect that people will accept that and leave him be. He knows that kind of expression can often make a person a target. And yet he does want to have something like that, wants to make something like that. Wants to be surrounded by joy and by happiness. So he compromises. He does something clever. And I also like how Rex reacts at first, assuming the worst because it isn’t something he completely understands. Not until he really studies it and sees that what Oliver has done isn’t create something evil, but rather that he’s created something that seems evil enough to be able to pass through the world without being seen so easily. That because his world seems defined by violence, he needs a shroud to camouflage his own joy and expression. So he chooses to wrap himself with death pointed out but with a lining of gentleness and acceptance and happiness. And it’s such a nice moment when Rex figures it out, and knows what Oliver is trying to do. It’s a very complex situation that the story handles with care and grace, and I just really like the impact and feel of it. It’s got a great vibe and it’s an excellent way to close out the original fiction!